When it comes to grammar and the controversy between prescription and description I’m entirely on the side of description: against prescription, if necessary. Religion prescribes, tells us what to do; science describes: not what ought our laws to be; but, what are our laws?
I became addicted to TV in the 1950s when TV was relatively new. A neighbor had a TV in the ’40s, the father was an engineer, working at “inventing” the technology for the medium. Fortunately I kicked my addiction by the end of the 50s, now I don’t even plug the TV into the socket. But I remember with glee a grammarian talking on a far-out no-account channel in the afternoon, one of those channels that used a pitchman to sell lanolin for three hours, then showed some movie no royalties would be owed on. The grammarian was talking about usage: say for the term “ain’t.” He said something to the effect that you don’t ask a grammarian whether or not to say ain’t, whether or not to scold your kid: at least you don’t ask a descriptive grammarian; you ask “Emily Post”! And Emily Post isn’t a grammarian at all.
Don’t seek knowledge, where what you want is authority, subordination to authority. You want someone essentially ignorant and stupid who’ll tell you without any sense of irony which fork to use with which dish.
Well, Emily Post was in our past. Dear Abby is in our present (as well as our past, and probably in our future) (if we have a future).
I’m currently on a Dear Abby bender. Links come up on Yahoo. It’s not too hard to recognize the Dear Abby headline signature, her style of selection: sex and society: the mores of the local kleptocrats.
Today I loved her response to a letter from a mother distraught that someone close to her, educated, intelligent she avers, lost a job and now thinks she’ll do better at prostitution.
Abby doesn’t gather information about the girl, doesn’t know her future; she looks in her crystal ball … and sees … conventional morés.
Emily Post pic, arbiters of manners, evaporated
I’ll develop this further, better latter. And will discuss ambiguities of “Dear Abby”: does the “dear” mean that we cherish her? Dear: does it mean she, or her advice is expensive? or is it just the epitome of convention: you write “Dear Hitler” even if you want to flay him alive.
2012 09 13 I scramble in some more thoughts on the subject:
You want to know for sure: don’t ask a philosopher, don’t ask a student of the subject; ask a social expert: ask a bigot! You’ll get the clearest directions from the head of the Klan.
I was about to write “this” post in the wake of reading some Dear Abby letters. Abby (and staff, who knows how many desks they occupy) really does exhibit some social wisdom, may help more than harm people. But she ain’t Freud, she ain’t Jung, she ain’t Bateson … She ain’t von Frisch, or Lévi-Straus …
2016 11 01 I just read a good Dear Abby piece: some martinet dictates what family members can give for Christmas. Problems of free will endure, understanding remains scarce, bullshitters still vie for authority.